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The 2016 National Scripps Spelling Bee is underway in Washington, D.C.

The annual event brings the country's strongest spellers (or at least those who haven't graduated the eighth grade) together for four days of feats of academic super-strength.

The days are long. It's stressful. And while the competitors love the challenge, it's not for the faint of heart.


All photos by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

But this event is much bigger than the small school spelling bees you may be familiar with.

Here are 15 facts about the National Spelling Bee you may not know.

1. In 1925, nine newspapers joined forces to start the bee.

2. Scripps took over in 1941, and it's still running the show today.

3. There were no spelling bees in 1943, 1944, or 1945 — it was put on hold for World War II.

4. Spellers at the bee take a preliminary test before the oral rounds begin.

To get past the preliminaries, the spellers have to earn at least 27 of 30 points on a vocabulary test. Needless to say, it's really tough. You can take it for yourself and see how you score.


5. 29 of the spellers this year have family members who've competed in the bee before.

Two of the spellers have siblings who've won the whole thing.


6. 66% of the spellers attend public school.

7. Speller Zander Reed of Ames, Iowa, is competing in the bee for the fourth time!

This is Zander back in 2013, when he could barely reach the microphone:

8. The youngest speller in the competition this year is Akash Vukoti, a 6-year-old first-grader from San Angelo, Texas.

He was on the "Steve Harvey Show" in March.

9. The competition at the bee has intensified over the years. The winning word in 1940? Therapy. The winning word in 2015? Scherenschnitte.

(Author's note: My computer doesn't recognize this as a word, but young Vanya Shivashankar from Olathe, Kansas, spelled it correctly to take home the title.)


10. If spellers miss a word — and most of them will — there's a crying couch.

It's away from the stage, and spellers can reflect with their families for a while.

11. National Spelling Bee champions are an elite group, with only 93 winners in the history of the event. There have been 48 girls and 45 boys.

12. Paige Kimble, the executive director of the event, is a former champion.

Her winning word in 1981 was "sarcophagus."

Kimble chats with a young speller at a press conference in 2012.

13. The bee's announcer, Jacques Bailly, is a former winner too. He reached out to Scripps to ask about a position, and they happened to have a need.

His winning word in 1980 was "elucubrate."


14. In the bee's history, co-champions have been crowned only five times, including 2014's and 2015's winners.

2015 co-champions Vanya Shivashankar (left) of Olathe, Kansas, and Gokul Venkatachalam of St. Louis.

15. Spelling bee champions receive $40,000 cash, $400 in reference books, and a $2,500 savings bond.

16. Oh, and no one really knows why it's called a "bee" anyway.

It's an American term, found in print in 1875, but scholars suggest it was probably around before then. It could be related to the busy, industrious nature of the insect and the way they work in teams, but no one knows for sure.

The spelling bee is an iconic celebration of language and literacy.

Whenever we can cheer kids on for pursuing the interesting and mind-expanding hobbies they love, we should. Keep it up, kids! You're all amazing!

All images provided by Adewole Adamson

It begins with more inclusive conversations at a patient level

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Adewole Adamson, MD, of the University of Texas, Austin, aims to create more equity in health care by gathering data from more diverse populations by using artificial intelligence (AI), a type of machine learning. Dr. Adamson’s work is funded by the American Cancer Society (ACS), an organization committed to advancing health equity through research priorities, programs and services for groups who have been marginalized.

Melanoma became a particular focus for Dr. Adamson after meeting Avery Smith, who lost his wife—a Black woman—to the deadly disease.

melanoma,  melanoma for dark skin Avery Smith (left) and Adamson (sidenote)

This personal encounter, coupled with multiple conversations with Black dermatology patients, drove Dr. Adamson to a concerning discovery: as advanced as AI is at detecting possible skin cancers, it is heavily biased.

To understand this bias, it helps to first know how AI works in the early detection of skin cancer, which Dr. Adamson explains in his paper for the New England Journal of Medicine (paywall). The process uses computers that rely on sets of accumulated data to learn what healthy or unhealthy skin looks like and then create an algorithm to predict diagnoses based on those data sets.

This process, known as supervised learning, could lead to huge benefits in preventive care.

After all, early detection is key to better outcomes. The problem is that the data sets don’t include enough information about darker skin tones. As Adamson put it, “everything is viewed through a ‘white lens.’”

“If you don’t teach the algorithm with a diverse set of images, then that algorithm won’t work out in the public that is diverse,” writes Adamson in a study he co-wrote with Smith (according to a story in The Atlantic). “So there’s risk, then, for people with skin of color to fall through the cracks.”

Tragically, Smith’s wife was diagnosed with melanoma too late and paid the ultimate price for it. And she was not an anomaly—though the disease is more common for White patients, Black cancer patients are far more likely to be diagnosed at later stages, causing a notable disparity in survival rates between non-Hispanics whites (90%) and non-Hispanic blacks (66%).

As a computer scientist, Smith suspected this racial bias and reached out to Adamson, hoping a Black dermatologist would have more diverse data sets. Though Adamson didn’t have what Smith was initially looking for, this realization ignited a personal mission to investigate and reduce disparities.

Now, Adamson uses the knowledge gained through his years of research to help advance the fight for health equity. To him, that means not only gaining a wider array of data sets, but also having more conversations with patients to understand how socioeconomic status impacts the level and efficiency of care.

“At the end of the day, what matters most is how we help patients at the patient level,” Adamson told Upworthy. “And how can you do that without knowing exactly what barriers they face?”

american cancer society, skin cacner treatment"What matters most is how we help patients at the patient level."https://www.kellydavidsonstudio.com/

The American Cancer Society believes everyone deserves a fair and just opportunity to prevent, find, treat, and survive cancer—regardless of how much money they make, the color of their skin, their sexual orientation, gender identity, their disability status, or where they live. Inclusive tools and resources on the Health Equity section of their website can be found here. For more information about skin cancer, visit cancer.org/skincancer.

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